September 1984 // Volume 22 // Number 5 // Feature Articles // 5FEA1

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Extension: Unchanging, but Changing

Extension in the 80's is the latest in a series of 4 evaluative reports on Extension organization and operation. An analysis of these reports traces some changes in Extension and the impact of these evaluations.

C. Brice Ratchford
Department of Agricultural Economics
University of Missouri - Columbia

Since World War 11, four long-range evaluations have studied Extension:
  • Joint Committee Report on Extension Programs, Policies and Goals (1948)
  • A Statement of Scope and Responsibility (1958)
  • A People and A Spirit (1968)
  • Extension in the '80's: A Perspective for the future of the Cooperative Extension Service (1983)1

This article traces some of the important changes in Extension in the past 35 years. It examines and compares: (1) the motivations for the studies, (2) the approaches used, (3) key issues addressed, and (4) the impact of the studies. A summary of the major points is shown in Table 1.

Motivations for Studies

1948 Study

The fact that the reports are about 10 years apart is an accident. Each was a response to a set of circumstances that seriously questioned the role of the Cooperative Extension Service. The 1948 study was prompted by the following facts: for the preceding 20 years, Extension efforts had been devoted to the national emergencies of depression, drought,and war; the majority of the staff was either new or had been on leave for an extended period in the military services; a host of new agencies created during the emergencies had to be accommodated; and the relationship of Extension to farm organizations was increasingly in question.

1958 Study

The 1958 study was motivated by 3 conditions. There had been relatively large additions to federal appropriations by an administration highly supportive of Extension, which prompted questions particularly by related agencies. The agricultural community was facing large surpluses and low prices, with no end in sight. The sharp increase in interest in science and graduate education resulting from Sputnik, along with bulging enrollments, was at least perceived as lowering the priority for agriculture and particularly Extension with the land-grant universities.

1968 Study

The 1968 study was prompted by the numerous programs initiated under the New and Great Societies. The emphasis was on "social"programs rather than technology. Extension was widely accused of being disinterested in and incapable of mounting programs consistent with the goals of the Great Society. Surpluses continued to plague agriculture and it became conventional wisdom "that the last thing needed was efforts to increase output-the long suit of Extension." The administration actually tried to substantially cut federal appropriations.

1983 Study

The most recent study was proposed in 1979, but the initiation was delayed by a change in administration. It was prompted not as much by an identifiable crisis as it was by chronic questioning by some farm organizations, some congressmen, USDA and Office of Management and Budget (OMB) administrators, and land-grant university administrators. Some farm organizations continued to question all Extension work not related to commercial agriculture. Some members of Congress had concerns about the distribution of funds. USDA and OMB administrators continued to question why the federal government should put money into a program that it didn't control and that often didn't contribute to stated administration goals. The acute funding situation in the universities prompted questions about the value and relevance of Extension work.

An underlying, but generally unstated, concern throughout the years related to who controlled Extension. Such questioning was inevitable when control was, by design,divided among local, state, and federal institutions and implemented through a series of generalized partnership agreements.

Approaches Used

All except the 1958 study used a joint USDA-National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges (NASULGC) committee. The 1948 study was initiated by a letter from Secretary of Agriculture Clinton Anderson to the association requesting that a joint study committee be established. The committee consisted of five people named by the secretary and five by the association with John Hannah, president of Michigan State University, serving as chairman and P. V. Cardon, of the USDA, serving as vice chairman. P. V. Kepner, of the FES, provided staff support and the report was popularly called the "Kepner Report." There was also an advisory committee of five stated directors. Formal hearings weren't conducted, but a number of governmental agency heads and farm organization heads were consulted.

The 1968 study was initiated by a letter from NASULGC to Secretary of Agriculture Orville Freeman requesting that a joint committee be established to outline the future role of Extension. Both the association and the secretary appointed eight members. Robert Parks, president of Iowa State University, and Assistant Secretary of Agriculture George Mehren served as co-chairmen. A staff task force of 12 people, 6 from the states and 6 from USDA, was named to provide staff assistance. Extensive surveying was done as part of the study with essentially every segment of society being included in some manner. The writing was done by Lowell Watts, director of Extension in Colorado and a member of the committee.

... Only a true cynic would conclude that the reports haven't contributed to change in a strongly decentralized institution -- one designed not to accept top-down direction through orders....

The 1983 study was also initiated by a letter from NASULGC to Secretary of Agriculture John Block asking that a joint study committee be appointed. A 22-person committee was appointed and included in addition to representatives of the association and USDA, a representative of the governors (Albert Quie of Minnesota), a representative of county government (Charles Tollander of Wisconsin), a representative of the Extension agents (Leslie Firth of Pennsylvania), and 4 representatives of USDA's Users Advisory Board. Chancellor Daniel Aldrich of the Irvine Campus, University of California and Ray Lett, executive assistant to the secretary, served as co-chairs. An eight-person staff/design team was appointed with membership representing both the USDA and the universities. Laverne Forest, University of Wisconsin, served as project coordinator.

The committee made it possible for everyone interested to make suggestions in person or in writing. Extension personnel and people with an interest in Extension with emphasis on advisory groups were extensively surveyed. The writing was done by a number of people, but Aldrich was responsible for the last draft.

Unlike the other 3, the 1958 study was an effort that included only Extension. The "Scope Report" was written by a subcommittee of the Extension Committee on Organization and Policy (ECOP), chaired by Paul Miller, who was director of Extension in Michigan at the time. It was a short statement and had a recommendation that more detailed direction and specific recommendations be developed. Subsequently, nine task forces consisting of Extension administrators of all types were organized under the overall leadership of Henry Ahigren of Wisconsin and Brice Ratchford of North Carolina. A total of 75 people served on the task forces and their reports were published in A Guide to Extension Programs for the Future.2

Key Issues

Each of the reports had at least one unique feature, but the continuity in terms of issues addressed is of greater significance. While relative emphasis changed, each study addressed scope of subject matter, clientele, Extension methods, training, financing, and relationships of Extension within the university and USDA. Introductory statements consistently stressed that the environment in which Extension operated was changing and that Extension programs and methods surely had to change. The recommendations for the future would lead the cynic to conclude "that the more things change the more they stay the same."

Continuing Themes

Philosophy. Let's first look at the continuing themes and then identify the unique features of each study. A similar basic philosophy about Extension work has been stated in the four studies. The 1948 report stated this philosophy: "in short, whereas extension has done much for people, it is what extension has helped people do for themselves that achieves the greatest results."3 All studies stressed the necessity of involving target clientele in program planning. All reports have also reminded readers that the words "useful information" and "encouraging application of information" that were part of the language of the original Smith-Lever Act had continuing significance.

Program Scope. The trend in scope of programs has been to consistently broaden the mission. In the 1948 study, the scope was restricted primarily to agriculture, home economics, and 4-H Club work. Even that report mentioned as important, however, "development of rural leadership, aiding esthetic and cultural growth of farm people, contributing to the science of government and education, solving problems through group action and understanding economic and social factors."4 The 1958 report retained the 1948 thrusts and added specifically farm and home management,marketing, conservation of resources, community development, and public affairs. The youth program was broadened beyond 4-H and development of leadership was given added emphasis.

The 1968 report defined agriculture to include agribusiness and defined natural resources more broadly than soil and water. The traditional family living and home economics issues were broadened to include the general area "quality of living." Two major additions were the concern about poverty and low-income citizens and international programs. The last report, prompted in part by concern about the broad scope of Extension programs, didn't broaden the scope, but in no way retreated from the positions outlined in earlier reports.

Clientele. Clientele were treated in much the same way as program scope. The 1948 report talked primarily about farmers and rural youth and families, but acknowledged urban dwellers couldn't be ignored. The 1958 report stated that first priority should go to farm families, but listed as additional important groups non-farm rural residents, urban residents, farm, commodity and related organizations and individuals, and firms and organizations involved in agribusiness.

The 1968 report came close to saying that all people were appropriate clientele and low-income urban people were given almost equal priority with agriculture. The 1983 report stated that the first priority was the agricultural system. It also recognized that Extension couldn't be all things to all people, but felt clientele should be determined by the types of problems addressed and research results available rather than by occupation or place of residence. The trend has been to broaden the clientele to be served by Extension.

Methodology. All the studies dealt with methodology. Radio was the only electronic medium available in 1948. By 1958, television was available; by 1968, audio and video teleconferencing was available; in 1982, computers were widely available. The advent of new media was recognized and their use endorsed. All reports emphasized that new media were simply another tool and that there continued to be a need for one-on-one contacts, meetings, demonstrations, and other labor-intensive activities. The 1983 report made a distinction between technology transfer and education and discussed the suitability of various methods to these two objectives.

Unique Features

While the reports had much in common, each had some unique features. The 1958 report was devoted almost exclusively to the programmatic concerns of program areas, clientele, and methodology. All except the 1958 report addressed relationships of Extension and the land-grant university to the Federal Extension Service and USDA. The three reports acknowledged the need for a strong positive relationship and offered recommendations for achieving the goal.

Table 1.
Summary of keypoints of four Extension evaluation reports.


Joint Committee

Scope Report
A People & A Spirit
Extension in the 80's
Year printed
Motivations Return to normal after 20 years of emergencies Farm srpluses, low prices, related agencies' concerns and Sputnik Social programs of New and Great Societies Chronic questioning of role, funding and control
Approach used Joint committee appointed by secretary of Ag. and NASULGC ECOP sub-committee Joint committee appointed by secretary of Ag. and NASULGC Joint committee appointed by secretary of Ag. and NASULGC
Key Issues All addressed scope of subject matter, clientele, methodology, training, financing, and relationships. The basic philosophy was restated in all. There was consistent broadening of program scope. The unique features were:
Relationship with farm organizations and emphasis on training. Broadened program scope by emphasizing management, marketing, and public policy. Strong emphasis on social programs and the disadvantaged. Brought 1890 institutions into the picture. The emphasis placed on the partnership of USDA, universities, and local government.
Impact Changed relationship with farm organizations, stronger tie of Extension to academic base, and new training opportunities. Program areas other than ag./home econ. and 4-H became part of system. Lessthan others because of little follow-up. Did increase visibility of social issues. To be determined.

A feature unique to the 1983 report was its treatment of the partnership of the USDA, land-grant university, and local government. The nature of the partnership was described and credited with being a major contributor to the success of Extension work. Both the 1968 and 1983 reports recognized that Extension had relations with federal agencies beyond USDA, with the 1968 report treating the subject in some depth.

All except the 1958 report discussed relationships within the land-grant university and agreed that Extension should have close ties to researchers and be an integral part of the university. The 1968 report was the first to acknowledge the existence of the 1890 land-grant institutions and to state a role for them. The concern was continued in the 1983 report. The 1968 and 1983 reports also indicated that the concerns of Extension went beyond the College of Agriculture and that the organization needed a positive relationship with the entire university. A unique feature of the 1968 report was the discuss* of Extension to non-land-grant universities. A major issue in the 1948 report was its treatment of the relationship with farm organizations. This was prompted by the fact that in a number of states a farm organization was Extension's local sponsoring group. The report recommended that the relationship be changed. Another distinguishing feature of the 1948 study was the attention devoted to training Extension staff. The uniqueness of the 1968 report lies in its strong emphasis on what has become known as "social programs." A continuing theme was giving priority to the "disadvantaged." The theme was the rationale for bringing the 1890 institutions into the picture. It was partially the reaction against this philosophy that prompted the 1983 study. While the 1983 study took the emphasis away, the role of Extension with the disadvantaged wasn't forgotten.

Impact of Studies

People who expected "revolutionary" changes to happen as a result of the studies have been disappointed. On the other hand, a majority of the significant recommendations have been incorporated into programs and policies. For example, the 1948 recommendations on training and integration of specialists into academic departments are now standard procedures. The program recommendations of 1958 have been incorporated, although emphasis assigned to individual program areas varies with the national administration and the economic and political situation.

An unanswerable question is whether the reports led to the changes or simply were a recognition of the existence of exogenous factors and trends that had to be accommodated. Some insight into the answer lies in the fact that many of the recommendations were at the time controversial and far from the accepted norm. Only a true cynic would conclude that the reports haven't contributed to change in a strongly decentralized institution-one designed not to accept top down direction through orders. Even the 1968 report, which received less acceptance and recognition than the others, resulted in appreciation of social issues that continue to be addressed by Extension programs.

I believe the 1948 and 1958 reports had greater impact than the 1968 report. The main reason for the difference is the amount of follow-up provided by ECOP and Extension Service, USDA. There was quite a delay in the printing of the 1968 report and by the time the recommendations were available for discussion, considerable change in personnel in ECOP and USDA had taken place. Also, the 1968 report moved beyond policy concerns and became largely a blueprint for implementation. Policy concerns became obscured.

The results from the 1983 report are still to be determined. It was produced promptly, is concerned with policy matters, and did have wide involvement in preparation. Both USDA and ECOP have an interest in following through on many of the recommendations. There is cause for optimism.


  1. Joint Committee Report on Extension Programs, Policies and Goals (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1948); A Statement of Scope and Responsibility. The Cooperative Extension Service Today (Washington, D.C.: Extension Committee on Organization and Policy, 1958); A People and A Spirit: A Report of the Joint USDA-NASULGC Extension Study Committee (Fort Collins: Colorado State University, Printing and Publication Service, 1968); and USDA/NASULGC Joint Committee, Extension in the '80's: A Perspective for the Future of the Cooperative Extension Service (Madison: University of Wisconsin-Extension, Cooperative Extension Service, 1983).
  2. A Guide to Extension Programs for the Future (Raleigh: North Carolina State College, The Agricultural Extension Service, 1959).
  3. Joint Committee Report on Extension Programs, Policies and Goals, p. 5.
  4. Ibid., pp. 2-4.